Washington, DC – A plethora of voices from across the political, social and religious spectrum were unanimous in denouncing the announcement by a Sikh group to burn the Indian national flag in a park across from the Indian Embassy at noon on Saturday. The Indian Embassy will be hosting an open celebration of the Indian Republic Day at the Embassy on Saturday morning.
In a media announcement, Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), an advocacy group calling for separation of North Indian State of Punjab from India, announced plans to burn Indian national flag in the US capital.
In a joint statement, condemning and denouncing “in the strongest terms the planned burning of the Indian flag on the occasion of India’s Republic Day outside the Indian Embassy in Washington DC,” Kamaljit Singh Soni, President along with Jesse Singh, Chairman of the “Sikhs of America,” said: “Sikhs reside and have businesses not only all over India but also boast a global presence. Such theatrical protests like flag burning are detrimental to the peace loving and harmony enhancing Sikh community everywhere.”
Urging “Sikhs for Justice to have dialogue with the Indian government regarding any issues and desist from such petty actions,” the duo noted that Sikhs have achieved “a lot recently through dialogue with the Indian government, solving some of the key issues that were faced by the Sikhs for decades.”
Suresh K. Gupta, Chairman, National Council of Asian Indian Association (NCAIA) and President, Asian-American Inter Community Service, reacted with shock and outrage saying, “I denounce this strongly and am outraged, at such behavior of others, in our community.” Stating that, “As myself and many others have heard that ‘a few bad elements’ are going to be in town, across our Indian Embassy, burning our Sacred Indian Flag,” Gupta termed it, “a shameful propaganda.”
Echoing his sentiments, his fellow President of NCAIA, Pavan Bezwada reacted saying, “It is very unfortunate and shameful that some fringe elements are threatening to burn the Indian flag on such a historic day. I join the multitude of NRIs in condemn this disgraceful act and insulting act against our motherland.”
Bezwada, expressed his appreciation of the invigorated efforts of the new Indian Ambassador Harsh Vardhan Shringla noting, “an elevated sense of enthusiasm in mobilizing and reaching out to the community to join in the celebration. This is encouraging and greatly appreciated.”
Voicing strong condemnation and expressing “deep dismay at statements made” by the SFJ to burn the Indian flag, Harsh Sethi, President, American Hindu Coalition (AHC) said, “The intent of flag burning is also an immense affront to the largest democracy on the earth and causing huge grief to the American Hindus.”
On behalf of the entire AHC membership, Sethi who himself has a Sikh inheritance urged the SFJ “to stop this act (of flag burning).”
Attorney Ravi Batra from New York highlighted the essence of Bill of Rights, saying, “Flag burning” by an American is both emotionally offensive and legally protected political speech. Desecration, when devoid of political speech, however, is a crime.”
Explaining the legal intricacies of such actions, Attorney Batra, an American with Indian heritage said, “What SFJ – an American-born & accredited entity is seeking to do, however – is to burn the flag of another nation – and here is the critical part – as part of a campaign, allegedly, as an unregistered foreign agent engaging in terrorist activities in India.”
Batra also highlighted importance of honoring often cited First Amendment, which guarantees Freedom of Speech to all US citizens, saying: “The First Amendment has limits, and India’s laws, no less implicated, about flag-desecration, let alone terror and foreign agency, are the calculus of this calculated act to evoke, provoke and injure the sovereignty of a core American ally, India.”
A local Republican leader and Sikh Indian American Puneet Ahluwalia felt “disturbed” and expressed concern, “that a chosen few can build a narrative about the Sikh community in USA which will be viewed by the whole world.”
Denouncing the false narrative of their huge support here, Ahluwalia said, “I am a proud American who is proud of his Indian heritage and Sikh faith. But I will not stand for these forces to develop a misguided narrative with US leadership and public, besides polarizing the already sensitivities towards minorities in India.”
“Numerous Sikhs died and fought to raise the Indian flag during the freedom struggle against the ruthless British colonialism. Martyred Sikh soldiers of Indian army have been laid to rest in defending and wrapped in glory of that flag,” said Ahluwalia. Supporting a strong secular and united India, Ahluwalia concluded, “No democracy is perfect but it is the conscious of the liberty loving citizens who should stand to protect and fight for it here and elsewhere.”